Michalis Firillas: Turkey needs to show courage in facing its history





[Michalis Firillas is on the editorial staff of Haaretz.]

... What can we learn from the German response to the Holocaust that might help Turkey alter its attitude toward the Armenian genocide? A loaded question? Obviously. An unfair one? Maybe. But is it a useful one? Definitely, and not only for the Turks. If there is one lesson we must have picked up on during the 20th century, it is that we are all "built" for genocide. There is no culture, polity, community that is immune from this. There are of course many ways of carrying out genocide. You can starve your victims, parch them, march them into the desert, shoot them, rape them, gas them, burn them, bomb them, hack them to pieces. You do not need to be an industrial powerhouse to do it quickly, efficiently. And by most standards, there is at least one genocide taking place right now, in East Africa.

Mentioning Turkey in the same sentence as the Holocaust is anathema to all Turks - and they are right because it is a horrific stigma to bear. "Placing the Turks in the same category as Nazis is intolerable to us," one Turkish official was quoted as saying in The Economist on October 4. But that is missing the point. This is not about comparative genocide - an exercise that invariably devolves into some form of bean counting. But when a state refuses to acknowledge history, it affects the psyche of the nation, perpetuating stasis, first on a moral level and then in every other aspect of life.

When World War II came to an end in Europe, in May 1945, the crimes of Germany were exposed before the world. The horror was such that for a while there were American officials who sought to reduce Germany to an agrarian society so that it could never again perpetrate such criminal aggression.

Things turned out differently, in great part because of Cold War exigencies. But at least in West Germany, a concerted effort was made by its political leadership - and first and foremost by Konrad Adenauer, the country's first chancellor - to restore Germany to the community of nations, foremost through the acknowledgment of the past. Not only did Germany accept responsibility, but it actively sought to preserve that diabolical chapter in its history - in the memory of the state and of every single German citizen. ...

Turkey's circumstances are different from those of Germany, and so is its historical development. But finding excuses is always easier than doing what is right. Yes, Turkey has simultaneously struggled with at least three massive challenges since its establishment in 1923, the roots of which dated back to the great reforms started in 1839: building a nation-state; modernization; and democratization. By the time Germany perpetrated the Holocaust, it had gone through all these stages, with greater or lesser success. Indeed, apologists are always quick to point out that "this is not a good time" for Turkey to address the Armenian issue. The bottom line is that it is never a good time: There is always some crisis brewing, some hyper-sensitive general, politician or group, too many other things going on. That is the nature of the mix that makes Turkey what it is. ...


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